SE7EN: Sloth

These posts on the SE7EN are coming from my “quiet times.” Things have gone along as I expected, but this one (sloth) threw me. It has taken me a while to get it online, because I not only had to understand it, but at least begin to work through my own conviction and shortcomings concerning it. I was surprised at how hard it has been. Here are some of my thoughts. Sloth is a form of laziness; a way of living characterized by wastefulness and fruitlessness. The proverbs of Scripture speak of the sluggard, the one who sleeps or wastes his time and opportunities and who, in the end, looses what God has offered to him as a gift (Pr. 9:15; 20:4).

The mistake we make, I have made, about sloth is that we consider it too narrowly. We imagine the person who won’t get up in the morning and go to work. We think of it in terms of simple laziness. While this is a classic picture of sloth, it is only one picture, and it misses the principle behind the action. Sloth is not only manifested in a refusal to go to work, but in the refusal to engage in all that God calls us to. Sloth emerges when we will not give ourselves wholly to the tasks and opportunities God has set before us. This includes one’s employment, education or duties at home. Consider your calling; husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church, wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord, children obey your parents, when working - work hard in the name of Jesus Christ, et al. These are not simply commands, but amount to the calling of God on the lives of men and women. Sloth leads us away from diligence in these things and into a state of complacency. When we are not loving, serving, sacrificing, submitting, obeying or working we call it sin, but more specifically it is sloth. It is a disregard for God's will.

In the end sloth makes the will of God subservient to our own, as we fit his ways in where they are most convenient to us. But we don’t even talk about sloth anymore. Not in our conversations, not in our churches. The word is virtually dead. Often we use the antiseptic term “procrastination;” a much kinder word that has shed any real stigma. I’m willing to bet most don’t even think procrastination is a sin. When my wife used to challenge me about my procrastinating ways during college, I would justify the sin by claiming it was simply a different form of time management (I know, I’m an idiot). The truth is procrastination is a compounded form of sloth because it neglects the things God has given us to do today, in order to do something else. This is a sin that rejects our duties and presumes upon God’s grace – as if he has given us tomorrow. Of course we have to manage our time, choose to do some things before others, and schedule some things for another day. Planning is good. But sloth and presumption are wrong. In the end sloth makes the will of God subservient to our own, as we fit his ways in where they are most convenient to us.

Sometimes we convince ourselves that we cannot be characterized by sloth because we are busy. But sloth is not absolute inactivity; it is the intentional neglect of the duties God calls us to do. In fact much of our busyness is the result of sloth, for we have given up on the more important responsibilities He sets before us in order to pursue things more comfortable or enjoyable.

Sloth even goes beyond this. Paul commands that we should not be slothful in zeal (Rom 12:11). Have you ever considered that? Sloth can be present in your life while you are working hard, even in ministry, due to the absence of a passion for Christ. As much as Christians wish it was true, zeal is not extra credit. It is the expectation of God for each of us, and when we dismiss it as an ideal unlikely to be experienced - sloth is present. Do we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength? If not, what should we call our sluggish response to love God in the ways he commands?

For many of us it will come down to evaluating our days, and being honest with how we spend our time and engage in our work. Are we doing what matters most in our context for the glory and enjoyment of God, or are we doing what is easiest and most pleasant, putting things off without proper justification. Poverty is said to await the sluggard, but poverty is not always financial. It is often spiritual (Prov. 6:11). That's the danger of this much neglected sin.

Helpful reading: The Sin and Folly of Procrastination by Jonathan Edwards Brothers We Are Not Professionals by John Piper